Facing the Twelfth Anniversary of 9/11: TAPS Shares Tips for Families of the Fallen

Author: TAPS

The twelfth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States causes us all to remember that tragic day and may stir emotions for the thousands of people in the United States who are grieving the deaths of a loved one who died during the attacks now more than a decade ago.

911 Remembrance

The anniversary also poses an emotional challenge for the families of those with loved ones who died in the Global War on Terror in Iraq or Afghanistan, many of whom enlisted in the military, in part, due to the 9/11 attacks.

TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, offers the following tips to help the surviving families of our fallen:

Take charge of the anniversary date. Anticipating the date, can be worse than the actual day. Taking charge of your plans for the day and mapping out how you will spend your time can help relieve anxiety. 

Be sensitive to your reactions to images in the media related to the attacks. Documentaries and tributes will be more prevalent in the media around the anniversary of the attacks. Be gentle with yourself and aware of your emotional tempo when watching media coverage, especially graphic images. Children who may have been sheltered from the images at the time of the attacks may now be seeing the footage for the first time and exposed anew.

Make plans. Plan to spend the anniversary where you feel nurtured, emotionally safe, and comfortable. Having a plan will help you navigate the day and its events. But remember to plan for flexibility, as you may not know how your emotions will respond.

Take stock of both joy and sadness. Give yourself permission to feel joy as well as sadness. Don’t feel like you have to “be a certain way” because of your loss. Just be yourself.

Express your feelings. Bottling up your feelings may add to distress, not lessen it. To express your feelings, use your creativity to write a poem, talk with a supportive friend, create a painting, or pen a journal entry.

Make a memorial contribution or do something for someone else, in memory of your loved one. Consider making a donation to a charity in memory of your loved one. Give a gift on behalf of your loved one to someone else. Volunteer with a charity to do something that your loved one would have enjoyed or approved of.

Don’t pretend you haven’t experienced a loss. Imagining that nothing has happened does not make the pain of losing a loved one go away, nor does it make a difficult day easier to endure. Even though memories may be painful, they can be comforting when they include reflections on the joy your loved one brought to your life. It is ok to talk with others about what you have lost and what your loved one contributed to your life today.

Create a tribute. Light a candle, display a favorite photograph, or set a place at the dinner table to represent the missing loved one. Consider writing a letter to your loved one and share your special memories and thoughts.

Avoid your grief triggers. For some, it is a smell. For others, it’s an image that scrolls on television screens over and over. They are instant and visceral reminder of trauma and loss. If you know something is a trigger for your grief, then avoid the trigger as best as you can.

Be gentle with yourself. Realize that certain sights, smells, and even tastes, may be comforting, or may jolt your emotions. Be careful with your emotions and listen to yourself.

Attend public functions if you can. Consider attending public functions, especially if you will be able to spend time with supportive family members and friends. Make an escape plan in case the event is more than you can handle, and trust your hosts to understand if you need to slip out. If you think a gathering might be more than you can bear, it is ok to stay home.

Reach out for support if you need it. The TAPS Resource & Information Helpline is available 24/7 at 800.959.TAPS (8277). Caring and trained professionals are available to talk with you confidentially by phone.

Realize that what helps you, may not help others in your family. We each grieve differently, and have unique relationships with the person who died. What comforts you, may not help others in your family who experienced the same loss.

Pay attention to your health. Make sure you get regular rest and drink lots of water. Do not over-indulge in sweets or alcohol. If you feel overwhelmed, talk with your medical care provider.

Find sustenance for the soul. Your church, synagogue, mosque, or other faith community may offer services, resources, and support networks for the bereaved. Families who have lost a loved one serving in the military may find comfort by connecting with other survivors through the TAPS online community, peer support groups, peer mentors, or care groups.

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